moved that Bill S-209, An Act respecting Pandemic Observance Day, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to move and speak to the bill on pandemic observance day. It was moved in the Senate by the hon. Senator Marie-Françoise Mégie, and was adopted by the Senate on May 12.
I know we all have “days of everything”, but I want to talk about why this is important and relevant. We need to bring an end to COVID-19 everywhere on the planet. There have been 6.5 million deaths worldwide and over 620 million cases of COVID. It is still considered to be a pandemic by the World Health Organization, even though all of us do not want it to be.
We need to help Canadians grieve and commemorate the efforts in getting through the pandemic. Over 45 thousand Canadians have died from COVID. More than 100 Canadians died from COVID last week in Canada.
We also need to reflect on ways to prepare for future pandemics.
Why March 11? On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization first characterized the coronavirus, the COVID-19 epidemic, as a global pandemic.
How should people commemorate on March 11? We are not going to try to prescribe any ways of doing this. I know the senator who originally moved the bill in the Senate feels it should be up to all Canadians and organizations to choose how and why they observe it and do it in the manner that is more relevant to their community, their needs and their province. The bill would not create a paid holiday.
This is very relevant to the health of people in Canada. It is our government's top priority. We know that it is still a real pandemic. The World Health Organization has not declared it over. We know that this virus has had an uncanny ability to mutate and evolve. Right now, omicron BA.4 and BA.5 are already in the northern hemisphere where we live.
As we close our houses in the fall and we are all inside, the risk of having another wave is very high. In the summer, we could be outside and that was helpful to us, but now that we are inside, we need to take care of ourselves.
The problem is that even though we have removed travel requirements, the Public Health Agency of Canada's chief officer has told everyone to please wear a mask, to get vaccinated and get boosted. We now know there is a new bivalent vaccine available to people, which might be helpful against the BA.4 and BA.5 variants. Our government has delivered all sorts of treatments that may be available if one does get COVID.
Recent studies show that for people who had COVID, even though it was mild, there is something called long COVID. These persons, even though they had a mild attack, would be subject down the road and over the years to chronic diseases. They will not be as healthy as they would have been. They can get all kinds of other diseases. For the sake of everyone's protection, try to follow what the Public Health Agency has asked people to do.
The Public Health Agency of Canada continues to ask Canadians to get their vaccinations, and I know a lot of people do not want get them. Nobody is forcing people to get vaccinated, but the thing about getting vaccinated is that it protects not only those getting it but it protects others around them. It also protects others in our communities who may be immunocompromised, who may have a chronic illness, who may be receiving cancer treatments or who may have all those things going on for them at the same time and be very susceptible.
Since the beginning of COVID-19, Canada has done very well. The reason we did was because we had vaccines, and many Canadians, more than any other country in the world, got vaccinated. That prevented us from having the sorts of results and outcomes that we saw in the United States, where millions of people contracted the disease and died from it.
We were lucky because we followed the rules and protocols. The thing about public health, pandemics and epidemics is that they are not going away. They will be here with us for a long time. It is the globalization of this. People are travelling. They are going everywhere in the world, visiting any country, going for holidays anywhere they want, and when they do that, they are subject to whatever little epidemic is going on in a country and they bring it back. That is how pandemics spread.
We know about the great flu pandemic in the 1900s, which killed a lot of people. We know better now. We know what we can do. We need to be reminded, always, every year at this time, even if we do not get a massive wave in the fall of this year, even though we may have all escaped and we are being vaccinated and are doing everything else, that this is not going to be our last pandemic. There are going to be various pandemics.
This one spreads by aerosol; in other words, it spreads in the air. That is why one of the things we need to do if we are in a closed room is open windows and ventilate the room as best we can, turning on fans to ensure the air is circulating. That is an important way to prevent us from breathing in this virus.
I am speaking right now at home because I am not particularly well, so I am doing this virtually, and I am not wearing a mask. However, if I were in the House, I would be wearing one. I would be speaking, and the drops from my mouth would be floating in the air and could infect other people in the room.
We want people to remember this pandemic in order to protect ourselves and others. The next pandemic we face may not be borne by aerosol; it may be contact, it may be sexually transmitted or it may be spread by feces and gastrointestinal products. Pandemics infect people in a lot of ways.
The thing about public health is that it first finds out what is causing the pandemic. Once we have found out what the bacteria or virus as in this case of COVID, we are then able to decide how it is spread. Then we take the precautions with regard to how we get it from each other. Those precautions will be different depending on whatever the pandemic spread is.
We want to remember pandemics. We need to remember that they are going to be with us. We need to remember that we are living in a new world now, post-COVID, and we need to be careful. We need to care about others in our community, our loved ones, friends and people we do not even know, who live nearby. It is the only way we will be able to stop pandemics from spreading, to nip them in the bud and to end them as soon as we can.
This one has stayed for a long time because, as I said earlier on, this virus seems to have the uncanny ability to mutate, change, evolve and take different forms, so the vaccines that people get would not be as effective. We also know that vaccines have a time period after which they are not as potent and as strong a protection as they used to be. That is why we are doing the boosters.
We need to remind ourselves of what we have faced. I have talked about the tens of millions of people around the world who have died from this pandemic. This is not where we want to go. We have seen the outcomes of this pandemic. This pandemic created all kinds of economic restraints. Women were mostly affected by this pandemic. They were forced to stay home or quit their jobs. That individual family economic balance was disrupted. Women were also at the front lines as nurses or doctors. Many other women were working the hospitals and in the communities.
This pandemic not only affected women, but it also affected children and seniors, who tend to be immunocompromised because they have chronic illnesses. They have diabetes, chronic lung disease or heart disease, and this makes them more susceptible to getting COVID.
Some people may take medications because they have an autoimmune problem. Those medications alone could bring down their immunity and they could become what is known as an immunocompromised person.
I would be the first to say I am an immunocompromised person. I take a medication for an autoimmune disease that is at the top of the list for causing one to be immunocompromised. That is one of the reasons why I am very careful and follow the protocols. We need to remind ourselves of that. We need to remind ourselves that we are living in a different world. Therefore, observing this day is important, not just for our protection but we need to thank all those people on the front lines, who are now burnt out.
We need to look at what could happen to our hospitals if we have another pandemic or we have another COVID wave this fall. We need to know that we cannot cope anymore. Our systems were so beaten by COVID–19 over those two years that we do not have the ability to rebound in a way we used to. People are burned out. Some people no longer want to be front-line workers. Doctors and nurses no longer want to work in the system. These are the things a pandemic observance day would help us remember, that we must care for our system that has served us so well over such a long time, but is now under stress and is cracking and breaking.
People who live in our communities do not want to go to a hospital emergency room because it is so overcrowed. They cannot get in or cannot get a bed. All of these safety responses have changed and we need to be able to respond to them differently. This is a reminder that we need to care for our system itself, the whole way in which we have to respond.
A lot of people remember what happened when we, as a government, had to suddenly spend billions of dollars to help people who had lost their jobs, to help them keep a roof over their heads and pay their rent. We saw a large number of people visiting food banks. The community impact of this pandemic on families and people has been horrendous.
An observance day would remind us of this. It would remind us that we need to understand the impact of any pandemic, not just COVID. It would also remind us of what we may need to do in the future to react as soon as it happens, to have the resources to help the pharmaceutical companies create vaccines and to build our own vaccine ability in Canada so we do not have to beg other people to give us vaccines. We need to become self-sufficient and resilient, so we need not to have to do the things we did, such as going into lockdown and stopping people from going to work. We should not have to do all of those things, because we would have learned from this and built in new ways to cope and protect ourselves, and to prevent what happened with COVID–19.
A pandemic observance day would help us learn from what happened in the past. If we do not learn our lesson, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes we made earlier. Science has said that if we keep doing the same things over, such as denying that we are living in a pandemic, even though we do not like it, we are going to keep repeating the same mistakes. To continually repeat the same thing over and over is the definition of insanity. This would help us not feel as powerless as we felt during the pandemic. An observance day will help us remember. It will help us build a new and create resilience in our country, our communities and among ourselves. It will help us look at how we deal with long-term care facilities where seniors were getting COVID even though everyone was trying very hard to prevent it. The ventilation systems were carrying COVID throughout those buildings. We are going to have to learn how to build that kind of resilience in the future, so our seniors are not as vulnerable as they were.
I want to thank the members and hope they will support this Senate bill. It is really important for us to move forward to be resilient and to build a new Canada post-COVID.